From The Spokesman-Review, August 13, 2017
This spring, in the wake of Cody-gate, The Stranger, a Seattle publication known for hipness and snark, sent five writers to “discover” Spokane. They came, they saw, they ate and drank, and they deemed us not uncool.
A month before that, Cody Delistraty, a young man who had grown up in Spokane, wrote a piece for The Guardian where he argued, basically, that absent Zags basketball, Spokanites would have no reason to live. His piece, rife with alternative facts, showed he had no idea what Spokane is like – at least not since he left to attend college in New York City in 2010.
With his usual incisive wit, Shawn Vestal took the cub reporter journalistically to task in The Spokesman-Review, and Visit Spokane launched a hilarious, brilliant campaign on Twitter with the hashtag #Codycomehome highlighting the many delights of our city. Others jumped on board and soon both The Guardian and the prodigal son published mea culpas.
While there’s no denying the pleasure in watching an arrogant wanker get spanked, I have to admit, I could kind of see where Cody was coming from.
I moved to Spokane in 2006, after spending two years in Missoula, which calls itself “the last best place.” The phrase was coined by writer William Kittredge, who morphed it from a line in a poem by Richard Hugo, which crime writer James Crumley used as the title of his novel, “The Last Good Kiss.” Missoula flaunts its literary chops.
There’s a mountain on the campus of the University of Montana, and the river that runs through it is littered with fly fishers, kayakers and rafters. When I moved to Missoula, I was considered fit, being an ultramarathon runner and all. Among my friends, however, I was a big fat slug. We’d do a three-hour run and then they’d go out to bike a zillion miles, or swim eight thousand laps or, in the winter, ski or play hockey. Missoula is filled with smart, athletic, progressive people who move there – even though there are no jobs – because it’s a place they want to live. That gives the town a great, if sometimes smug, vibe.
In Spokane, I had to stop reading the newspaper (yes, this one), because it often seemed to provide lessons in civic self-hatred. To anyone who asked, I would declaim that Spokane had all the problems of a big city, and all the problems of a small town.
My friends, colleagues and students not so gently suggested that if I hated Spokane so much I should just go back to Missoula. I did, as often as I could, traveling over two mountain passes even in horrendous weather to get back to a place I loved. While I knew I was lucky to have won the professional professorial lottery, I wished my job were in a different city.
And then something happened.
Spokane and I both changed. While in 2010 I might have agreed with Cody’s harsh assessment, in 2017 I feel fortunate to live here. Spokane is flourishing, as anyone who’s paying attention knows. The arts scene has exploded to the point that it’s now impossible to schedule events that don’t compete. Good new restaurants pop up like mushrooms after the rain. And, as author Jess Walter likes to say, it’s still a place where cops and school teachers can afford to buy homes.
Since I had been parochially directed east, I decided to spend this summer exploring more of Washington. I already knew Seattle was great, though I forget what a pain in the butt it is until I’m sitting for hours in traffic. And I hear how much my friends pay to rent crappy little houses. And I walk around feeling old and tragically unhip.
But the natural beauty in this state astounds me. A friend got a gig revising a guide to tent camping in Washington this summer, and I’ve accompanied her on several reconnaissance trips. Driving the North Cascades Highway – Route 20 – blissed me out. When I first heard these were called the “American Alps” I scoffed. Then we camped beside a Switzerland-blue lake and hiked above the tree line, scrambling on scree fields, and stopping to admire the wildflowers. I’ve also toured around the wavy wheat fields of the Palouse, driven up Steptoe Butte, and peered over the Palouse Falls.
Coming back from Seattle I made a pit-stop off I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass and accidentally hiked 11 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail (because I could not bear to stop). When I turned around I saw one of those crazy snow-capped volcanoes pretending to be a cloud. Then I saw the freeway below me, congested still close to Seattle, and thought about how little time I spend in traffic, about how much we’ve got going on, about how inexpensive and easy it is to live here.
When I got in my car, I was happy to be going home to Spokane.